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3 New Live Music Venues: Harley's Back Room, CAVE & trigger

The return of Harley's, a new metal bar, and an avant garde event space.
2023-12-06 12:00:00

By SmartShanghai Contributer

Will Griffith / LiveChinaMusic

Will is a photographer, videographer, writer, and music promoter living in Shanghai. He's the founder of LiveChinaMusic (ID: liveCNmusic) - a platform dedicated to China's evolving underground music scene. You can usually find him at a gig - beer and camera in hand.

Harley's Back Room

Underground rock finds refuge in the resurrection of Harley's Bar. Well sort of.

For the uninitiated - Harley's was a stomping ground for Shanghai rock and rollers of all ilk from 1996 up until the beginning of 2019, first residing on Hongqiao and Yili Road and then relocating in 2006 to Xujiahui. Talk to any band who's been around the block and more often than not, their first show was at Harley's Bar. Tucked away in the dingy yet snug basement in downtown Xuhui, the venue was a place where bands could cut their teeth, gain experience, and rock out without repression.

The bar itself has remained on it's Xietu Lu location but it's stage was sold off in the beginning of 2019 - eventually becoming reconfigured into current day ELEVATOR (which sadly will be closing at the end of the year). So instead of reclaiming its old dig, Harley's has taken over its other next door neighbor - a gym - and now we've got The Back Room.

With a capacity of around 150 people, a perched stage lined up a couple amps, and a no-nonsense fridge and bar that serves dirt cheap draft (or 25rmb Asahi bottles) or 30rmb mix drinks (folks who prefer something with a bit more class can walk the two meters to Harley's Bar) - The Back Room looks to bring a much-needed rugged rock and roll experience to Shanghai - a place where patrons could throw caution to the wind, indulge, and head bang alongside musicians and like-minded gig-goers.


Ever since the demise of Inferno, metalheads have been seen aimlessly wandering the streets of Shanghai in search of a new haven. CAVE has answered their guttural cries of help.

Located below the underpass just north of the Hongqiao subway station on Line 4 (and more importantly just south of the seasoned Yuyintang) - Cave has been operating since the beginning of November like most good establishments do - through good ol' word of mouth. Run by established metalhead - of death metal act Holokastrial and label Dienysian - their credentials are confirmed immediately as you soon as you walk in the door and take in their merch table - stacks of albums from local metal acts and black tees galore.

And that kind of sums up the vibe - with walls plastered with concert posters and no-frills one-page lamented menus - Cave is very much a local bar - one that doesn't come at you with any outlandish ticks or tacks - save for what I have deemed the ‘Metal Pit' where customers can vote on their favorite genre via ping pong ball that comes when they spend over 100RMB (which also comes with a song request).

Similarly, drinks are impressively cheap - 25rmb for draft Kirin; 20rm for bottles of Asahi and Singa; 40rmb for mixed drinks; 60rmb cocktails and 25rmb for shots of all ilk. There is talk of bringing in some domestic craft breweries - so expect more beers on tap in the future.

Like Inferno before them, the place steadily fills up after 11 as more shows wrap up, with plenty of conversation revolving around, of course, metal. But musical tastes aside, Cave, much like the genre and its fanbase, is as welcoming a bar as they come.


Patrons of the avant garde unite! trigger is the new space run in part by some of the Shanghai experimental scene's leading figures, including Junky aka Torturing Nurse. Operating humbly and quietly since the end of October, the space has hosted a whole wide of events - from obscure film screenings to noise-offs and other experimental music gatherings.

The space itself is compact - a tight four-wall storage room that could fit maybe fifty people max. No windows. No bar. Just some top notch sound equipment, some scattered stools, a merch shelf in the corner, and a heavy duty sound proof door that means business. Despite feeling a bit like a panic room - if your panic room was stocked with pedals instead of cans of soup - there's an intimacy to the bare-bones space. Most of this is due to the patience of its performers and audience members - a motley crew of sound explorers whose intrepid spirit never comes off as pretentious or ego-stroking.

For gig-goers who like to venture off the beaten path time to time, trigger is well worth a visit. And with most of their events taking place during weekend afternoons, it acts as the perfect pregame to further adventures out, or better yet, a palette cleanser after a rowdy Saturday night.